The ‘Shame of America’: African-American Civil Rights and the Politics of Childhood

  • Rebecca de Schweinitz


African Americans, from former slaves like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs to twentieth-century activists like W. E. B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King, Jr., commonly used ideas about childhood to explain the meaning of America’s struggle for racial equality (Douglass, 1845; Du Bois, 1903; Jacobs, 1861). But unlike participants in that struggle, historians have not recognised the centrality of ideas about childhood to the civil rights movement. The recent explosion of interest in the history of childhood, however, has encouraged scholars to explore changing notions of childhood and the lived experiences of children in the past, and to connect the history of childhood to larger historiographical subjects and debates. This chapter suggests that ideas about childhood and children’s rights in the post-WWII era significantly influenced the political culture of the United States and were central to the struggle for African-American civil rights and to public perceptions of that struggle. During this period, the politics of childhood encouraged America to protect its future and to prove its political fitness, and even legitimacy, by extending to all American children the rights of childhood.


Negro Child Black Child School Life Black Church Racial Equality 
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© Palgrave Macmillan 2005

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  • Rebecca de Schweinitz

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